Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I started to write stories when I was seven or eight years old. I loved to read and started off by writing alternative versions of my favourite books. I was George’s best friend in The Famous Five. I was a new student at Mallory Towers. As I got older I started to write my own stories. I completed the first draft of a novel when I was 15. I was 89 pages, double spaced and I remember how proud I felt.
What is your writing process? Do you outline your stories ahead of time?
My process varies depending on what I’m writing. For stories, I sometimes have a detailed outline or a title or a theme or a character. For novels, I do very meticulous planning. I have character biographies, detailed notes on the setting and a chapter-by-chapter outline. For poems the process is similar to stories – I can start with a lot of notes or very little.
Where do you write? Do you have any special writing rituals?
I’m not lucky enough to have a room of my own. I write in my living room. We’ve got a big computer desk with a fold out section I sometimes write at if I’m alone in the house. If my partner is up and about I set my laptop up at the coffee table. If I sat at the computer desk I’d need to have my back to her which I don’t like. I don’t have any real rituals; not specific hat or jumper. During the week I write before I go to the office between 4.30am-6am or 4.30am – 8am depending my shift. The hours vary at the weekend. I can’t work in silence and need to have the TV on. No music, just a random movie or TV show on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
What inspires your stories?
I get inspiration from many different sources. Sometimes a poem or a story idea pops into my head at random. I am inspired by things I read, overhear and see.
You often write about flawed characters. Is this something you do intentionally?
Yes. I’m fascinated by people who are flawed or screwed up in some way. I’m flawed myself so maybe like calls to like? I find flawed people very human and real. Perfect people irritate me. It’s our flaws; the bad choices, the poor judgement, letting your heart rule your head that makes us human. Flawed people have many layers that I like to peel back and see what lurks beneath. Perfect people not so much.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you deal with it? What is the hardest part of being a writer?
I’ve not really had writer’s block. I’ve seen myself working on something that’s not working so I quit and start something else. Sometimes I go back to whatever piece I was blocked at and sometimes I don’t. I’m lucky to have never had writer’s block to the extent that I can’t write anything. The hardest part is finding time to write every day.If you’re serious about being a writer you need to do it every day even if it’s just editing something or writing notes. A real writer writes and everyone else just talks about writing. Editing is also very hard, especially a longer piece like a novel. It takes a lot of practice until you feel confident.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers, or for those who’ve never tackled something as big as a novel before? What about writers who are trying to get published?
The best advice is just to write – whatever your heart tells you. Don’t try to write like an author you admire because it won’t work. You need to find your own voice, your own way of telling the story. Be original not a copy. If you really want to write about vampire robots then do it. Don’t think you need to write about certain things or in a certain style to be taken seriously. I’d also avoid using pseudonyms. Even if you write different genres I don’t see the point in using different names. Unless you write adult erotica and YA fiction I would always use your own name. Don’t write anything you’d be ashamed to be associated with.
Do you like to read the kinds of books you write? Who are your favourite authors?
Yes. I write in the same genres I like to read. I think that’s the same for a lot of writers. It would be weird if someone wrote steampunk or romantic fiction and had never read any. The only exception is horror. I love to read horror fiction but I’m rubbish at writing it. I’ve tried to write horror in the past and end up with drivel. I like a lot of writers but my favourites are Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, John Connolly, Joanne Harris, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Camilla Lackberg and Dorothy Koomson.
What are your ten favourite books and why do you love them?
This changes all the time but at the moment they would be:
- It by Stephen King. I’ve read this book at least a dozen times. It’s amazing and undervalued. I love the concept and the characters. I love how King explores evil and human ignorance. I consider myself an honourary member of The Loser’s Club
- Every Dead Thing by John Connolly: This book made me fall in love with crime fiction. I’d never read anything like it before. Charlie Parker is one of the best fictional characters ever written.
- We Were The Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates: This book made me absolutely furious with the characters because of the way the family ostracize the daughter when she is raped. I’ve cried so much
- Paris by Edward Rutherfurd: This was the first time I’d properly read historical fiction and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Paris is my favourite city in the world. This book is a joy to read. I loved all the rich details about the city’s history
- The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: I find mythology fascinating and Norse mythology is my favourite. I love how well-written and interesting this book is
- A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel: I love the rich detail about Paris during the French Revolution and how Mantel brings the place and people to vivid life. This is the kind of book you can get lost in for months
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: This is the book that made me fall in love with dystopian fiction. I love it’s originality, the people and the craziness of the whole thing
- The Stranger by Camilla Lackberg: The is the first book I read by the author. I’d stopped reading crime fiction for a long time and this book and this author made me fall in love all over again
- Marshmallows For Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson: This is the first book I read by the author. It’s hugely enjoyable and more complex than it would appear
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: This is the first book I read by the author. I love the rich detail and the complex characters.
What are some of your favourite films?
My taste in movies is as wide as my taste in fiction but my top ten movies are The Shawshank Redemption, Cloud Atlas, Carrie (original version), The Ring (Naomi Watts version), The Green Mile, The Shining, Hearts in Atlantis, Fame, Seven and The Dead Zone.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you’re writing?
I like pretty much anything except pop music which I think has become less original and more artificial and manufactured. My favourite singers are Meat Loaf, Alanis Morrisette, Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco and Sarah McLachlan. I don’t tend to listen to music when I write but if I had to I’d choose Sarah McLachlan.